Apple Watch vs. Android Wear, Pebble and Samsung Gear

What is a smartwatch, and what can it do? The Apple Watch arrives in a landscape filled with things for your wrist. How does it stack up? Great in some ways, and not so wonderfully in others. Let’s look at the closest competition and see.

Pebble Watch

My personal favorite, the Pebble, is lean, mean and cheap. A plastic version costs just $99, while theSteel version is $100 more. In the UK, they’re £99 and £179 and in Australia, they’re AU$129 and AU$229.

Pebble works with iOS and Android, has a battery that lasts up to 7 days, is 5 ATM waterproof for swimming or showering and has an always-on screen. It added on-watch step-counting last year, and vibrates to indicate notifications, incoming calls or other actions.

It runs apps, but they’re bare-bones. It lacks a touchscreen: the Pebble only has buttons.

The display’s a more primitive black-and-white affair with limited pixel resolution. It doesn’t have a microphone or speaker.

A newer version, Pebble Time, arrives in May with a reflective color display, a microphone, and the potential for optional smart straps to add extra hardware functions. It costs $199, or $299 for the steel version (shown).

The Apple Watch, in comparison, runs far more apps, has a force-sensitive color touch screen, a speaker and microphone, has a heart rate monitor, works with Apple Pay for contactless payments, stores music, and has a more refined build quality. But its battery life is just a day, it isn’t as water resistant, it costs far more ($350 starting price), and only pairs with recent iPhones.

Android Wear

Google’s wearable tech watch platform has been out for about a year, and already has many watches and compatible apps under its belt. Android Wear watches have color touch displays, distinctive round (or, more traditional square) displays, many pricing and design options, and can run on any Android phone running Android 4.3 or later.

Google Now notification and information cards get pushed to the watch predictively to assist you throughout the day. There are also lots of color watch faces available to download and install.

Some Android Wear watches have onboard GPS and heart-rate monitors, and upcoming ones will also have Wi-Fi. Battery life tends to last anywhere from 2 to 3 days.

Android Wear’s functions are limited to a particular set of functions: none of them have speakers, so you can’t make phone calls or hear alarms. Google’s Android Wear OS hides apps behind an ugly scrolling menu of suggested Google Now voice commands, rather than making apps easy to browse and tap. And Google Now cards aren’t always helpful.

Android Wear watches range from affordable ($199) to expensive ($300 or more). Onboard storage is limited to 4GB, while the Apple Watch has 6.2 GB of usable space (2GB for music).

The Apple Watch supports Apple Pay, Wi-Fi (provided your phone is still paired and on, too), and has a more advanced force-sensitive touchscreen, but it’s a lot more expensive for most configurations. But, both sizes of Apple Watch are smaller than the average Android Wear watch.

Battery life advantages currently go in Android Wear’s favor by at least a day, or more.

Samsung Gear

Samsung is an interesting case because, so far, it’s made both Android Wear watches (see above) and its own Samsung Gear line. The latter uses the company’s proprietary Tizen operating system. (The easy way to tell them apart: if the product has the word “Galaxy” in it, it’s Android Wear; if not, it’s Tizen.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

The most recent Samsung watch was the 2014Gear S, a combination smartwatch and SIM card-enabled standalone phone.

It required its own data plan, but showed where smartwatches could go next as semi-independent wrist gadgets.

Samsung’s Gear watches are very feature-packed, like the Apple Watch: heart-rate monitoring, onboard speakers and mics for speakerphone calling on the watch, and onboard music storage and playback.

But Samsung’s software is uglier than Apple’s, it’s less intuitive, and the app library’s offerings that run on Samsung’s aforementioned Tizen software are scattershot at best, lacking many known big-name app brands.

Many people love Gear watches for their ability to take calls, read and respond to messages and be stylish companions for Samsung phones. These watches are Samsung phone-specific, meaning you’ll need one of a dozen-plus particular phones to pair it.

In some ways, the Apple Watch feels like a much more thought-out iPhone-exclusive version of the Gear watches, with far better software but a higher price and worse battery life.

After releasing six watches in rapid succession over the course of only a year (late 2013 through late 2014), Samsung has gone quiet on the smartwatch front. With that in mind, I’d steer clear of current models, on the presumption that a new-for-2015 Gear will be announced before year’s end.

Dedicated fitness bands: Fitbit Surge and more

There are fitness-specific watches like the Surge that track heart rate, record runs and even get some basic phone call and message notifications. Their advantages tend to be: more affordable ($250 for the Surge), better battery life (up to a week, typically), and good fitness software and app support.

The Apple Watch has some of the best onboard fitness software of any smartwatch, but its battery life limitations (a day or less) make it the opposite of a wear-it-all-the-time band like Fitbit or Jawbone offer. You can’t do sleep tracking on the Apple Watch, either, because you need to charge it each night.

Other wearables track heart rate continuously: the Apple Watch pings every 10 minutes or so, but not all the time. And it doesn’t have an always-on screen, or swim-friendly water resistance. The Surge can’t be worn while swimming, either, but it does have its own onboard GPS tracking.

The Apple Watch can also store music for workouts, something fitness bands just don’t do.

For smartwatches, this is just the beginning

That’s an overview of the current smartwatch and fitness band landscape — but it’s just a snapshot for early 2015. The market has already come a long way in just the past 18 months, and it’s only getting more competitive.

Huawei Watch

Beyond Apple — already, no doubt, planning next-generation Apple Watch models, expect Google,Microsoft, Jawbone, Fitbit and a host of others to have new models (and apps) in the next year.

And that doesn’t even include traditional watchmakers, like Swatch, which are also getting into the smartwatch game.

In other words, the smartwatch space in 2015 feels a lot like the smartphone market did eight or nine years ago. It’s just getting started, and the future landscape may be almost unrecognizable from what you see today.

Apple Watch apps, the first wave: The good, the bad and the slightly weird

The Apple Watch won’t be available to the public until April 24 (preorders start Friday, April 10), but there are are already a good handful of apps for it. During my review period, I’ve accumulated 50 apps on my Apple Watch: some pre-loaded, others downloaded via the App Store to my iPhone and cross-installed. According to Apple, there are already around 90 or so apps available worldwide, with more coming very soon.

So how do they work, and are they any good?

The answer right now: it’s a pretty mixed bag.

Apple’s own preinstalled apps, to no real surprise, look and feel the best. And a few other third-party apps have impressed, too. But some apps just seem to be on the Watch for the sake of it, with little to justify their presence on the wrist so far.

Evernote has a functional, if homely-looking, app; recent notes can be read and you can create new ones using dictation on the fly. Apps that can be used to browse or create content can be done on Apple Watch, but I prefer them to be read-only apps.

Uber’s app is minimal and useful: you can call a car immediately and watch on a map as it arrives. But I’d still love to be able to pick from different Uber cars on the watch, or see what my estimated fare would be.

TripAdvisor is currently the next best thing to Yelp. It shows nearby restaurants and places to go. TripAdvisor’s database is pretty extensive, and I’ve already used it to casually make some local discoveries in New Jersey and Long Island. The menus and lists are basic but they work.

Not so great: Laggy third-party apps; apps that only dish headlines…and games

So far, most of the third-party apps on the Apple Watch suffer some pretty noticeable load-time lag. Loading one can take anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds. These apps work like extensions of the iPhone, and feel like they’re pulling lots of remote data versus really “living” on the Apple Watch…and it’s not a great experience right off the bat. That’s because these third-party apps don’t live natively on the Apple Watch itself, they cross-install from the iPhone. Apple’s own collection of apps run more independently from the iPhone, and feel more fluid.

Also, while there are some big-name news apps already on the Apple Watch (The New York Times, CNN, Flipboard), these apps mostly give headlines and a one-sentence story summary, after which they invite you to open your iPhone to read the rest (Apple’s Handoff puts the link in the bottom corner of your iPhone’s lock screen, for semi-seamless device switching). But why can’t you read all the text on the watch? Text loads easily. I want the option to browse a whole story if I want — especially if I’m a subscriber.

There are also a few games on the Apple Watch already (Trivia Crack and Rules!) but they feel like duds. Rules! is a great iPhone puzzle game with fast memory challenges, but the watch version is pared-down, slow and unchallenging. It’s free with the iOS version and cross-loads, so I can’t really complain much, but I am. Trivia Crack’s a little more fun, and offers simple multiple-choice quizzes that work fine on the small screen…but you have to set up games on the iPhone first, and play in bite-sized chunks when it’s your turn.Enlarge Image

The weird: Things that frustrate

Apple’s Remote app could have been a perfect Apple TV companion. It’s a fine enough way to play, pause and swipe-control from your wrist, and works like the old, bare-bones Remote app on the iPhone. But it can’t turn on the Apple TV on its own, you need…the actual remote. It’s a little counterintuitive.

Apple’s Mail app also has an oddity: email can be read or discarded, but not responded to. I can dictate text messages, tweets and notes, so why not an email?

Force Touch also presents an odd challenge for the first wave of apps: do you use it, or not? If a sub-menu opens up pressing down on the screen, will the average person even be able to figure out that they should do that? I didn’t, because force-sensitive touch displays aren’t something I’m used to dealing with. I started pressing down harder in apps just to see what would happen, and ended up with a grab bag of results ranging from helpful menus to nothing at all.

I also miss pinch-to-zoom, which you can’t do on the Apple Watch. Yes, Apple specifically created the crown to zoom without your fingers obscuring the small screen. Most apps don’t need zoom, but a few do. But some apps use the crown to scroll, even though you can also swipe to scroll on the watch face. That’s a problem; sometimes I forget what the Digital Crown does from app to app.

The road forward

Many third-party apps also use some pretty plain templates, reminiscent of the early days of the iPhone App Store. They didn’t bother me then as much as they bother me now. Maybe it’s because Apple’s apps are exceptionally pretty, on average. App makers will have to play catch-up fast, or suffer being the ugly stepchild on the Watch.

Many more apps will be arriving before the Apple Watch goes on sale: over 1,000 Watch apps have been submitted for Apple’s approval so far. The arrival of those, plus app updates on these early arrivals discussed above, could change the Apple Watch software landscape pretty quickly. Like the iPhone and iPad, the ultimate success or failure of the Watch will likely be determined by the breadth — and the usefulness — of its app library. It’s bound to get a lot better soon, but for now it’s good to remember that Apple Watch apps have a ways to go before they’re as seamless and useful as their iPhone counterparts.

Outlook.com is having hiccups

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Having trouble with your Outlook.com account this morning? You’re not alone.

As of 9:34 p.m. PT Tuesday, some type of technical glitch has been affecting Microsoft’s Outlook.com email service and various email clients. The company has acknowledged the problem on itsservice status page and has been promising to fix it:

We are aware that users of the following mail clients are experiencing issues syncing and sending email. We are working on the issue and expect resolution in the next 24 hours. — Windows Live Mail — Outlook Connector — MSN Premium client — Windows Phone 8.1 — Windows 8 Mail Client.

In two more updates during the night, Microsoft said that it was still working on the problem. But apparently the issue is tougher than expected to solve.

In a later update posted at 1:53 a.m. PT on Wednesday, Microsoft said that “fixing the problem is taking longer than we hoped.” The company apologized for the “lengthy interruption in service.”

Just before 10 a.m. PT, a Microsoft spokesperson sent CNET the following statement: “A small number of customers may have had difficulty sending and syncing email. We are currently rolling out an update and we expect all services to be fully restored soon. For further updates please visithttps://status.live.com.”

In 2013, Microsoft started phasing out its Hotmail service in favor of Outlook.com as a way to shake up its email service and offer competition to other mail clients such as Gmail. Outlook.com allows you to send and receive email using other accounts, offers email forwarding and lets you group your email by conversation thread. But the service has been hit by periodic outages since its inception.

In the pit of the Broadway hit musical 'The Book of Mormon'

I may not be the biggest fan of Broadway musicals, but when a friend introduced me to the Associate Music Director “The Book of Mormon”, Adam Ben-David, we really hit it off.

I was curious about how he got his start, and his answer took me by surprise, “I was thinking about ways to make a living as a musician, and I noticed a lot of the best rock players were working the pits on Broadway. That wasn’t always true — in the ’60s,’70s and ’80s Broadway wasn’t the place to be.” Things started to change when rock musicians were coming off the road and studios were closing, so a steady Broadway gig for $2,000 to $2,500 a week looked awfully good.

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Of course, only the very best players manage to land full-time employment with long-running shows, but if they can’t score one of those, they might work as “subs.” When a regular member of the band takes a vacation or goes off to do a tour, a sub fills in. That job can be super-stressful: note-perfect performances are required, so subs practice for weeks before they’re ready to play a two-and-a-half hour show with the band.

Ben-David is a keyboard player. Before “The Book of Mormon,” he was in the pit for “Wicked,” and later on he was music director for “Jersey Boys” for four years. When he heard Trey Parker and Matt Stone were putting together a musical, he was eager to make the jump.

So when I asked what a music director does, he explained, “Your job is keeping the ‘paint’ in place, because over the months, doing eight shows a week, even when actors change or there’s a substitute drummer, the music has to be consistent.” Ben-David said, “It’s exactly the opposite of what a jazz musician does — it’s like trying to perfectly play an album night after night.” I definitely got the feeling Ben-David enjoys the challenges of his work. With “The Book of Mormon” he switches between playing keyboards and working as associate conductor for the nine-piece band. He’s a big fan of Yamaha keyboards and pianos and uses them at the show and also at home.

“The Book of Mormon” is now in its fourth year, and the cast has almost completely turned over, but the band is the same. The musicians hear a “click track” in their monitors, which Ben-David really likes for the security it brings. Without the click track, he might slow the tempos if he came to work with a toothache, or if the actors had a lot of coffee before the show they’d want to speed up. The click track ensures the tempos are precisely the same night after night. Not that the click track makes the band play like a metronome; with good players the sound should still feel fluid and organic. Of course, the audiences are new every night, and some crowds are more enthusiastic than others.

Ben-David occasionally takes time off to play concerts and do some writing. He pointed out that a lot of live concerts are now using Broadway-style production, with lighting, smoke machines, backup dancers, and click tracks. There’s a merging of the way concerts and Broadway musicals are presented.

With such high expectations for perfection, I asked Ben-David if there have been any major music disasters in “The Book of Mormon,” and he said one night his computer and backup for the keyboards went down, but the show went on sans keyboards (the computer systems were replaced soon after). Ben-David’s keyboards add strings, horns and so on. and they make the nine-piece band sound like 20 pieces. The computer accesses over 350 “patch changes,” and they keep Ben-David busy for the whole show. So when he calls up a sound bank — for instance, strings — that’s called a “patch.” When the time comes to play another bank of sounds, that’s a patch change.

Four years in, “The Book of Mormon” is still playing to packed houses, so it looks like Adam Ben-David isn’t going anywhere, and he likes it that way.

See animated bunnies reenact 'Blade Runner'

bunnydeckard.png“Blade Runner” quickly retold by cartoon bunnies makes us long for Replicant rabbits.Angry Alien Productions

Over the last decade, 30-Second Bunnies Theatre has created extremely short cartoon retellings of films such as “Alien,” “Back to the Future,” “The Exorcist,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Star Wars,” “Godzilla” and “The Shining” — 87 films to be exact.

Jennifer Shiman of Angry Alien Productions, who wrote, directed and produced the cartoons, has decided to put 30-Second Bunnies Theatre back in its cage.

“Time to wind down and hang up our ears,” Shiman posted this week on the Angry Alien website. “This is it, for now. Thank you for your viewership and your support over the years. We are (I am) beyond grateful for your correspondence, requests, and kind words.”

As a last hurrah, 30-Second Bunnies Theatre pays tribute to sci-fi favorite “Blade Runner.” Watch the video here.

After 30-Second Bunnies Theatre debuted in 2004, it became so popular that it was commissioned by the Starz cable channel to make more shorts. Later, it teamed up with Crackle, then Fearnet to create additional shorts. Even actor Kevin Spacey asked to have his life re-enacted in 30 seconds.

Don’t worry, the 30-Second Bunnies Theatre movie reenactments will not be lost like tears in rain. They can all be viewed ad-free on AngryAlien.com.

Amazon exec shifts to CEO post in fashion e-commerce

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One of the leaders in Amazon’s European operations has left the e-retail giant to run a fashion company that’s now flush with cash.

Romain Voog, the former Amazon France president, has been appointed CEO of Global Fashion Group, the company announced Wednesday. In his new role, Voog will be in charge of five distinct fashion-focused e-commerce sites operating in 27 countries around the world.

Global Fashion Group is part of the Rocket Internet family of companies. Rocket Internet, which was founded in 2007, aims to launch a variety of online startups to cater to Web users outside of two core markets: the US and China. The company had previously launched five fashion-focused e-commerce sites — Zalora, Dafiti, Lamoda, Namshi, and Jabong — which are now all part of the Global Fashion Group umbrella. Last year, Rocket Internet said that it plans to launch 10 startups in 2015.

The central theme at Global Fashion Group is to appeal to consumers in emerging markets around the world that might have an interest in fashion products commonly purchased in the US and in other developed countries. In a statement Wednesday, Global Fashion said that its goal is to become the top destination for people in emerging markets looking for fashion.

Tapping Voog to run the group is an important step, given his experience. Voog has spent the last seven years at Amazon running that company’s operation in France, and prior to that, held leadership roles as a strategic consultant at other companies.

Voog’s appointment comes alongside Global Fashion Group’s announcement that it has raised 32 million euros ($34.7 million) from existing investors Tengelmann Ventures and Verlinvest. The company says that the venture round imputes a value of 2.8 billion on the Global Fashion Group.

Global Fashion Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Get an HP Stream 13 with 4G

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Lately I’ve been all about the Chromebooks, but for many folks it’s inconvenient — if not downright impossible — to break away from the Windows world. There may be software you need to run, peripherals you need to use and so on — any or all of which might disqualify a Chromebook as your next laptop.

Fortunately, you can now get the equivalent (at least in terms of pricing) in Windows form: Amazon has the HP Stream 13 with 4G for $226.50 shipped. Pssst: Don’t tell anyone at Amazon, but that’s a few dollars less than the price of the Stream 13 without 4G. (There’s something about the configuration of this product page that makes me feel like this is a price mistake, but let’s just keep it our little secret.)

Update: I figured this was too good to last. Amazon appears to be sold out; the Stream 13 is now being sold by third-party vendors at a higher price.

The HP Stream 11 made headlines for offering full Windows 8.1 computing for $200. The Stream 13 is its bigger brother (itself a steal at $230). The 4G version normally runs $300, so this is kind of an amazing deal.

How can a Windows laptop be so inexpensive? The specs tell much of the story: The Stream runs on a Celeron processor and comes with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of solid-state storage. In other words, it’s just like a Chromebook, only with Windows instead of Chrome OS.

Ah, but can Windows run smoothly on such limited hardware? If you’re planning to keep 20 browser tabs open while using Photoshop, then obviously not. But for the basics, like watching Netflix, updating Facebook and checking e-mail, it’s solid. (Read CNET’s review of the similarly equipped Stream 11 for more details.)

Performance aside, I kind of buried the lede: The Stream 13 offers not only built-in 4G (for those times when Wi-Fi isn’t available), but also 200MB of data per month — free, for life, courtesy of T-Mobile. You also get a one-year subscription to Office 365 Personal and a $25 Windows Store gift card. Oh, and the Stream’s battery life is reported to be awesome, anywhere from 7 to 9 hours.

The only real downside I’m seeing is the crapware preinstalled by HP; there’s little question it creates a performance hit. My advice: remove all of it. (One of the Amazon user reviews offers a thorough discussion of this. My advice: read it.)

Speaking of user reviews, they average out to 4.2 stars from over 1,600 (!) buyers. That’s pretty solid, and I suspect they’d be a little higher without the aforementioned crapware. Even with it, this is an amazing deal for anyone seeking a capable low-cost laptop.

Bonus deal: Remember the cool RAVPower Savior mobile charger from the other day? That deal was for the Micro-USB model. If you were hoping to snag the Lightning version, now’s your chance: Sunvalleytek (via Amazon) has the RAVPower Savior 9,000mAH mobile charger (Lightning edition) for $35.99 shipped when you apply coupon code NIICQGWM at checkout. That’s $14 off the regular price and the best deal to date on this, my favorite portable power supply.

Bonus deal No. 2: Calling all comics fans! StoryBundle’s Dynamite Ultimate Heroes Bundle is a massive DRM-free collection of digital comics. The name-your-own-price tier includes “Alice in Wonderland,” “Bob’s Burgers” and some Red Sonja, while the $15 bonus tier adds “Game of Thrones #1,” a bunch more Red Sonja and many other titles. A portion of what you pay can go to charity, so it’s a big win all around.

Samsung Galaxy S6 dual-SIM phone pops up in online photos

Samsung will offer yet another version of its Galaxy S6 smartphone, this one dual-SIM cards, according to photos allegedly leaked online.

Pictures of the purported phone snagged by blog site Phone Arena show a device with two SIM card trays. The device itself is a prototype model, says Phone Arena, so the external shell is just a disguise. But the internal components are reportedly the same as those found on the regular Galaxy S6. The model number seen on the screen is SM-G920, the same number assigned to the S6.

Why offer a dual-SIM phone? Such phones are designed to hold two different phone numbersand therefore two different identities as the same time. So you can make and receive phone calls and texts using either number. Further, a dual-SIM phone makes it easier for you to jump from one carrier to another, especially handy if you constantly travel from one country to another and need to switch between carriers.

In late March, the Galaxy S6 Duo appeared on a Russian retail website, popping up alongside the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge phones. An alleged photo of the S6 Duo also was leaked online by an Italian journalist revealing the dual-SIM trays, as spotted by Forbes.

Beyond the dual-SIM functionality, the core specs for the purported Galaxy S6 Duo would likely be the same as those for the S6 and S6 Edge. The new S6 models come with a 5.1-inch quad HD display, an octa-core Exynos 7420 processor and a 16-megapixel rear camera. For internal storage, you can opt for 32GB, 64GB or 128GB.

Assuming the Duo is or becomes a reality, no reports have suggested when or where it might be available.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are both available now for preorder. Consumers in the US can preorder the phones from any of the four major carriers: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint. The phones will officiallyhit retail and online markets this Friday.

Original 'Twin Peaks' actors rally behind director David Lynch

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When the Log Lady speaks, you better listen. And that goes for Laura Palmer, Audrey Horne, Shelly Johnson, James Hurley, Nadine Hurley and the One Armed Man.

Those are a few of the “Twin Peaks” characters who show up in a video on the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” fan site to show support for their director David Lynch, who announced this week that he could be no longer part of the Showtime revival of the hit series due to money and creative issues.

A dozen “Twin Peaks” cast members recorded their emotional response to the sentence “Twin Peaks without David Lynch is like…” Many of the responses directly reflected their own “Twin Peaks” characters’ personalities and quirks.

We’ve listed the quotes with the actors and the characters they played in the original “Twin Peaks” below. Of course, none other than Laura Palmer herself starts off the video completing the sentence: “Twin Peaks without David Lynch…” We’ve embedded the video right here, just click on Ms. Palmer to start it (there’s now play arrow):

“Twin Peaks without David Lynch is like a girl without a secret.” – Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer)

“… is like a dog without a bark.” – Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs)

“… is like eyes without the brows.” – Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne)

“… is like a waitress without a uniform.” – Mädchen Amick (Shelly Johnson)

“… is like a pie without cherries.” – Peggy Lipton (Norma Jennings)

“… is like a motorcycle without its rider.” – James Marshall (James Hurley)

“… is like a sheriff’s station without donuts.” – Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran)

“… is like a letterman jacket without the leather.” – Gary Hershberger (Mike Nelson)

“… is like a log without its bark.” – Catherine E. Coulson (Margaret Lanterman aka The Log Lady)

“… is like drape runners without cotton balls.” – Wendy Robie (Nadine Hurley)

“… is like fire without the heat.” – Al Strobel (Philip Michael Gerard aka The One Armed Man aka MIKE)

“…is like a hole without the donut.” – Jennifer Lynch (David Lynch’s daughter)

“… is like sad without funny… or funny without sad.” – Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer)

“… is like Abbott without Costello, Bela without Lugosi… Franken without stein.” – Charlotte Stewart (Betty Briggs)

The Welcome to Twin Peaks fan site is encouraging other fans to follow suit by posting their own Save Twin Peaks videos uploaded to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Also don’t forget to sign the Save Twin Peaks petition.

Spring cleaning for your Gmail

Spring cleaning month is coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean you should stop optimizing the tech in your life. Gmail can be a source of stress if you don’t have a good system in place for responding to email, or the ability to easily locate contact information. Fortunately, these changes are just a few clicks away. Here’s seven tips to make Gmail work at its best for you.

Organize email by tabs and labels

Tabs help organize Gmail messages.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

Labels and tabs are two features that Gmail offers by default for grouping your messages. Tabs mayneed to be enabled on your account if you don’t already have them across the top of your Inbox. When you want a certain type of message to display in a specific tab, click and drag it there. You’ll see a message appear at the top asking if you want all messages like it to be sent there, click Yes.

Left: email menu to start a filter. Right: search fields for Gmail filter.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

To apply labels, click the small arrow at the top right-hand of an e-mail and then choose Filter messages like this. You can add extra information to the filter’s criteria fields, if you like, but make sure to fill out the Label field after clicking Create new filter. You can also apply the filter to other conversations that match the search criteria.

Add a Mark as Read button

A new Mark as Read button is added to the top action bar in Gmail.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

When you’re looking at an Inbox full of newsletters, or maybe just a bunch of work messages you’ve been carbon copied on, having a button that can mark selected e-mail as Read will be handy. To add this button, click the cog icon, head to Settings and then the Gmail Labs tab. Scroll down to Mark as Read and enable it, then click Save at the bottom. Now you can mark e-mail read in batches with a button at the top of the Inbox view, instead of clicking through each one.

Consolidate newsletters

Mailing lists are a major contributor to the mess that your Inbox has become. Sure, there might be a couple of topics or promotions you’re interested in, but then there are the rest. If you’re constantly seeing email and thinking, “What is this?” then it’s time to check out Unroll.me. After signing up, you can remove subscriptions you don’t want and get the rest delivered in just one daily email digest they call “The Rollup.”

Send and archive

Move messages directly to your archive after replying.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

If you’re replying to an email that you don’t need to keep looking at in your Inbox, then Send and Archive is your new best friend. Click the cog icon and head to the Settings menu. On the General tab, scroll down to Send and Archive. and enable the feature. Don’t forget to click the Save changes button at the bottom of the screen. When a message that you replied to and archived gets a response, it will be appear back at the top of your Inbox.

Disable automatic contact creation

Stop Gmail from making new contacts every time you send e-mail.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

By default, Gmail will add a contact entry for any person you e-mail. If you’re using services like eBay or Craigslist, this can turn your Contact list into a mess rather quickly. To disable automatic contact creation, click the cog icon in the top right-hand corner, then choose Settings. Scroll down on the General tab to Create contacts for auto-complete, and then mark the bubble next to I’ll add contacts myself.

Merge contacts

Merge duplicate contacts to tidy up your address book.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

Now that you’ve removed Gmail’s ability to add new contacts, it’s time to consolidate your current ones. There’s no sense in having three different entries for one person, especially when Gmail allows you to add multiple email and phone numbers per contact entry. To clean up your list: click on Gmail in the top left-hand corner and choose Contacts. The new Contacts Manager UI will load. Next, click the Find duplicates option from the left-hand menu. You can review which contacts you’d like to merge before completely the process.

Delete old attachments

Old attachments can be searched for and deleted to make more space.Screenshot by Nicole Cozma/CNET

Gmail storage is linked to your Google Drive account. With that in mind, you may want to clean out some of the file attachments you have received over time. Click the small arrow in the search box at the top of Gmail. You’ll see a filter search box load. Check the box next to “Has attachment” and then fill in a size threshold (like 25 MB). Although 25 MB is not a very large file, it’s enough space for you to store a few more photos.